Ex-Pro Football Players Struggle With Health Problems

ByABC News
March 23, 2008, 11:41 PM

Mar. 23 -- FRIDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- The glamour of playing professional football can fade fast and hard once an athlete's career is over, a new study suggests.

Chronic pain from injuries sustained during a career, plus levels of depression comparable to the general population that can be aggravated by that injury-related pain, can make the transition to retirement difficult for many players, University of Michigan researchers report.

Many retired players "have a rate of moderate to severe depressive symptoms similar to the general population," said lead researcher Dr. Thomas L. Schwenk. "But they also have a huge burden of chronic pain, from injuries and the stress of a professional sports career. The two interact to cause significant sleep disturbance and other miseries."

Besides depression and chronic pain, those miseries can range from loss of fitness and lack of exercise, financial difficulties, a lack of social support or friendships, and abuse of prescribed medication, alcohol or other drugs, the study found.

The findings are published in the April issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. They are also timely because the National Football League is holding its annual draft of college players this weekend.

The study also come on the heels of tragic headlines involving former NFL players, including Andre Waters, a star safety for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals, who committed suicide in November at the age of 44. He was suffering from brain damage caused by multiple concussions during his 12-year career, according to pathology reports.

For the new study, Schwenk's group surveyed 3,377 retired members of the NFL Players Association. Of the 1,594 who responded, almost 15 percent reported moderate to severe depression, a figure comparable to the general public, Schwenk said.

But, half of those respondents also said they suffered from chronic pain, Schwenk said, and "this puts them at significant additional risk for depression."